Spotlight | On Golf

Michelle Wie victory brings up question: How young is too young in women’s golf?

 
 
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie
John Bazemore / AP

Special to the Miami Herald

The U.S. Women’s Open came to a conclusion this past weekend, and it delivered all it had to offer with Michelle Wie winning her first major.

Nevertheless, there’s one question that lingers in women’s golf.

When does young become too young? Ask Wie. Ask Lexi Thompson. Ask Lucy Li.

When Wie, 24, won Sunday by shooting 68-68-72-70—278, it culminated a journey that she readily admitted was long — and often tough.

Amid fanfare and hoopla, Wie became the youngest player to qualify for a USGA championship at age 10. She turned professional at age 15, thus not being able to play on her college team at Stanford.

Wie, now a Jupiter resident, received the nickname The Big Wiesy early on because her swing was so smooth and similar to Ernie Els, who was nicknamed The Big Easy.

But in those early years, possibly when she was too young to know why, things turned cruel, people referring to her as the The Big Queasy when success was not guaranteed week after week.

At one point in 2008, her world ranking dropped to No. 238. All that early fanfare had turned to a whisper.

It was her parents who kept Wie steady.

“When people doubted me, when I even doubted myself, my parents would never let me doubt myself,” she said after Sunday’s Open victory, her first major championship. “My parents — they are my two eyes.”

In some ways, she appreciates that she had to wait and pay her dues to win her first major.

“It means so much more to me than it ever would have at age 15,” Wie said.

Another example of early success is Thompson, the 19-year-old homegrown golfer from Coral Springs who still lives there. She has gone through a similar experience as Wie, but with fewer downturns.

At age 12, Thompson played in her first U.S. Women’s Open, at the time becoming the youngest person to do so. She turned pro at age 15.

Thompson was so enthralled about playing in that first Open that she practiced signing her autograph on the ride to the course.

Thompson, who finished tied for seventh in this year’s Open, became the youngest winner of an LPGA event when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic at 16 years, seven months and eight days.

Thompson knows how difficult it is to keep being successful on a golf course, and that made her appreciate Wie’s ability to make her way through the tough times and finally emerge.

“It was just a matter of time before she got her first major,” Thompson said of Wie.

Then there is the current youngest of them all. That would be Li.

Li, 11, was playing in two South Florida tournaments just six months ago — the Dixie Amateur and the Junior Orange Bowl International Classic.

Individuals easily could have gone out to take a gander at the possible future of women’s golf.

Li easily worked her way through qualifying and played in this year’s U.S. Open, breaking Thompson’s record of being the youngest contestant in that event.

She shot 78-78—156 in the Open and did not make the cut. No problem.

Being young and a great golfer has not affected Li yet. Neither has the pressure.

She usually conducted her interviews with an ice cream cone in her hand. Her staccato laugh — and she seems to find something to laugh about in just about anything — was a landmark of her Open experience.

She had the media eating out of her hands as easily as she was munching on those ice cream cones.

During the tournament, fans surrounded her to get her autograph.

Afterward, she said she felt no pressure to shoot a good score.

“If you care too much about your score, the numbers will get bigger and bigger,” she said. “I learned a lot. I had a lot of fun. It has been a great week.”

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